Grounds for optimism at Rotherham and Chesterfield

Rotherham United's New York Stadium
Rotherham United's New York Stadium
0
Have your say

Going through the pictures of Rotherham fans at Wembley last week after their stunning League One Play Off Final success against Leyton Orient, and watching the ensuing footage on television, there was one thing that stood out when examining the expressions on their faces.

Of course, there’s an overwhelming smile, and having just won completed back-to-back promotions to book a place in Championship’s fixture list next season, who could blame them?

Chesterfield The Proact stadium.

Chesterfield The Proact stadium.

However, aside from the gargantuan grin, there’s also a look which straddles somewhere between disbelief and bewilderment.

It’s difficult to quantify just how far Rotherham United have come in the space of a couple of years and the reason for that stunned look on fans’ faces comes from the fact that it wasn’t too long ago they were staring at the very real threat of extinction.

However, from that dark cloud emerged a silver-haired silver lining in the shape of Tony Stewart, the Rotherham businessman, owner of ASD Lighting PLC, who set about turning around the fortunes of a club in administration.

A move away from home of over 100 years, Millmoor was forced, due to a disagreement over the rental charges by the Booth family, who owned the ground, and from there the club would spend four years playing in Sheffield, at the Don Valley Stadium - now demolished and no more suited to football then, than it is now.

Fans invade the pitch following the Sky Bet League One, Play-off Semi Final, Second Leg at the New York Stadium, Rotherham. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday May 15, 2014. See PA story SOCCER Rotherham. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. Maximum 45 images during a match. No video emulation or promotion as 'live'. No use in games, competitions, merchandise, betting or single club/player services. No use with unofficial audio, video, data, fixtures or club/league logos.

Fans invade the pitch following the Sky Bet League One, Play-off Semi Final, Second Leg at the New York Stadium, Rotherham. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday May 15, 2014. See PA story SOCCER Rotherham. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. Maximum 45 images during a match. No video emulation or promotion as 'live'. No use in games, competitions, merchandise, betting or single club/player services. No use with unofficial audio, video, data, fixtures or club/league logos.

That was in 2008; points deductions, administration, CVAs and a collation of financial jargon, that the average football fan shouldn’t have to understand, were what Rotherham United’s headlines were made from.

However, through it all, Stewart asked the club’s fans to remain patient, to trust him to deliver a new stadium and bring back the good times.

It can’t have been easy to maintain that level of support but when it was announced on January 27, 2010 that the former Guest & Chrimes Foundry would now site a new stadium for Rotherham, there was a sense of relief among fans, but more importantly, hope and genuine excitement at what lay ahead.

For Mark Thomas, chairman of the Millers Trust supporters group it was that day which sparked the club’s resurgence and momentum has been gathering since that announcement and by-passing the move into the £20m New York Stadium in 2012.

19th July 2008. Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield the new home of Rotherham United.

19th July 2008. Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield the new home of Rotherham United.

“I think the best thing about it is that we were able to take in its building, almost brick by brick,” he said. “We watched it grow and I would say almost every Rotherham fan would have pictures of various stages of the ground’s development. It’s in the town centre and you can’t escape it so we were able to keep track of how things were coming along.”

He added: “To be honest, I never doubted that Tony wouldn’t be able to pull it off.

“I know some did which is understandable because we had been through a lot, but everyone got behind him and from speaking to him from the start, I knew that he would do it.”

Mark is in no doubt that what has happened on the pitch has come as a result of the surroundings that the players now inhabit.

Coca Cola league 2:'Rotherham United v Barnet.''New Rotherham chairman, Tony Stewart, meets the faithful at Millmoor.  picture mike cowling may 3 2008

Coca Cola league 2:'Rotherham United v Barnet.''New Rotherham chairman, Tony Stewart, meets the faithful at Millmoor. picture mike cowling may 3 2008

“I’ll tell you how it has felt,” he says. “It was like we were living in a dilapidated old house, moved across the motorway to a one-sided tent (Don Valley) and then someone came and bought us a luxury house ...that’s what it feels like.

“The club has been reincarnated into a much more attractive model and it still takes my breath away every time I see it.

“And of course you can tell the players have responded to it. The atmosphere around the place is incredible. There is a real feel-good factor and the players feed off that...a new stadium, lovely surface, fans close to the pitch. I think you have to say that it has played a big part in the success that we’ve had.”

That’s not just psychological, for according to Rob Wilson, an expert in football finance at Sheffield Hallam University, a new ground brings monetary benefits to clubs and its surroundings.

Chesterfield have also seen a rise in success on the pitch since they moved into their new ground on the Chesterfield-Sheffield by-pass, and they too are celebrating a promotion this season, to League One under boss Paul Cook and the chairmanship of Owlerton Stadium owner Dave Allen, a former chairman of Sheffield Wednesday.

They too had financial worries - falling into administration in 2001 - and their old home, Saltergate, once one of the oldest in the country, had become out of step with modern stadia and a drain on resources.

Rotherham United reveal the plans for their new stadium

Rotherham United reveal the plans for their new stadium

Since then the area in which the Proact, the Spireites new abode since 2010, is situated has undergone significant change, bringing a host of new facilities and employment to the town.

“If it (a new stadium) is done well, then the benefits for clubs are great,” said Mr Wilson.

“Simply put, a new stadium will in most cases enhance ground capacity, which facilitates potential promotion up the leagues; it generates more ticket sales and is more attractive to potential investors and sponsors.

“That, of course, means that the clubs are able to strengthen their playing staff, buying better quality players and in turn, the team, hopefully, performs better on the pitch.”

He adds: “What is arguably most important is the location and that is something that Rotherham and Chesterfield have done well, they have chosen a location that is accessible through various means of transport, but still maintaining close links with the town.

“Both new grounds are easy to get to, there is plenty of parking all around and they are in close proximity to town centres.

“The parking is a big factor. What we have found over the years is that people move away from their home town a lot more than they did before, through work or study for example, but still maintain their support for their home team.

“What can happen now is that those fans find it easier to get to the grounds; they can jump in the car and drive there, get a good parking spot and get away if they have to, to wherever they now live.

“That has opened up a new stream of potential season ticket sales.”

The towns themselves have also seen a change for the better, and Mr Wilson adds: “It brings benefits outside of the football club.

“Shops are busy on matchdays, bars and hotels etc see an increase in revenue or, as has happened, facilities are spread out to the new grounds, bringing the football crowd there, as well, and perhaps bringing more people into town centres who don’t want to be around football crowds.”

Mark Thomas can vouch for the change in Rotherham town.

“There is a real buzz about the place now, you can really feel it,” he says.

“I have been supporting Rotherham United for 51 years and it reminds me of the 60s, seeing the throngs of people pouring in and out of the New York on matchdays reminds me of when I first started following them. It’s brilliant to see.”

He adds: “We often have the mickey taken out of us by Sheffield clubs, particularly Wednesday fans, who call us Toytown.

“That seems laughable now.

“We are at the New York Stadium and when I think about Frank Sinatra singing that song, where he sings, “These little town blues, are melting away...” that’s what it feels like - like we aren’t a little town anymore.”

Chesterfield v Fleetwood Town. Fans celebrate and invade the pitch after Chesterfield won the League 2 Championship

Chesterfield v Fleetwood Town. Fans celebrate and invade the pitch after Chesterfield won the League 2 Championship

Chesterfield The Proact stadium.

Chesterfield The Proact stadium.

Chesterfield v Fleetwood Town. Chesterfield fans cheer their team on during the 1st half

Chesterfield v Fleetwood Town. Chesterfield fans cheer their team on during the 1st half